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June 2023

 Mother and Me: Escape from Warsaw, 1939Note:  I found and read this book because the publisher (Academy Chicago Publisher) recommended it for my reading list.

Julian was only 7 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland, and he fled Warsaw with his mother whom he barely knew, and his aunts and cousins.  Although Julian and his family were Jewish, Julian’s beloved governess Kiki had taught Julian of God’s love for Catholics and disregard for Jews.  Thus, Julian secretly in his 7-year-old heart was a Catholic.  Julian’s thoughts and misunderstandings on God and religion form a welcome break from the brutality of the war swirling around him.  One passage in particular describes the Trinity from a  child’s mindset:

Over the next two years or so, I learned from Kiki about God and Mary, their little boy Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.  This last, I saw from pictures, was like a white pigeon that they had.  This, I supposed, was like the canary that I was going to get some day when I was old enough.

Julian’s mother was an amazingly strong and intelligent woman.  Although she was used to being pampered and cared for, when it came to the survival of her family, she did whatever it took to keep her and her son alive.  This memoir recalls the basic story of Julian’s escape from Poland.  But beyond that, it shows two important transformations in Julian’s young life.  First, Julian’s attitude towards his mother changes from disregard and embarrasment to love and respect.  Second, due to his mother’s influence, Julian discovers that God doesn’t hate people just because they aren’t born Catholic–God loves everyone.

Due to the nature of the book (a memoir) parts of the book read a bit slow, as Padowicz includes more detail than a fiction writer would.  But because of the detail and his memory of small incidents (accidentally receiving his first sausage sandwich, jumping in the hay loft) the story has an authentic feel, and has a true child’s perspective on some horrible times.

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